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The Muslim communities that flourished in the ports of southeastern China c. 10th-14th cen-
turies AD were part of a trade diaspora that played a central role in the commercial life of
maritime Asia. In contrast to past treatments which portray these communities as essentially
static entities, this paper proposes a tripartite periodization. In the first (c. 907-1020), trade
and merchants were concentrated in Guangzhou, with frequent tribute missions playing a
major role. In the second (1020-1279), maritime trade involved multiple ports and free trade
under the supervision of the maritime trade superintendencies, and the Muslim communities
became increasingly integrated into the society of southeastern China. In the third period
(1279-1368), preferential Mongol policies towards Muslims significantly altered the nature of
the communities and their diasporic identity.

Les communautés musulmanes qui se sont épanouies dans les ports de la Chine du sud-est
des 10th-14th siècles faisaient partie d’une diaspora commerciale qui a joué un rôle central
dans la vie commerciale de l’Asie maritime. Contrairement aux traitements passés qui
dépeignent ces communautés en tant qu’essentiellement entités statiques, cet article propose
un periodization triple. Dans la premiere période (c. 907-1020), le commerce et les négociants
ont été concentrés dans Guangzhou, avec des missions fréquentes d’hommage jouant un rôle
important. Dans la deuxième period (1020-1279), le commerce maritime a impliqué les ports
multiples et le libre échange, quoique sous la surveillance des surintendances du commerce
maritime, et les communautés musulmanes est devenu de plus en plus intégré dans la société
de la Chine du sud-est. Dans la troisième période (1279-1368), les politiques mongoliennes
préférentielles envers des musulmans ont changé de manière significative la nature des com-
munautés et de leur identité diasporic.

Keywords: Guangzhou, Quanzhou, Muslim Traders, Song, Trade Superintendencies, Yuan

China’s Muslim maritime communities are remarkable in several regards.

They are old—dating to the Tang (618-907) in Guangzhou and at least the
Song (960-1279) in Quanzhou—and the contemporary presence of coastal
Muslim communities is a testament to their longevity. Compared to other Asian

* Department of History, State University of New York at Binghamton, chaffee@


© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2006 JESHO 49,4

Also available online – www.brill.nl
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maritime diasporas, they are well documented, appearing in both Arabic and
Chinese sources, and having bequeathed a material legacy of mosques, ceme-
teries, and archaeological remains. The historical literature on these communi-
ties, however, has suffered from the tendency either to focus narrowly on
specific events or topics, or to paint them with exceedingly broad strokes, often
in the course of dealing with their role in maritime trade, with the result that
they sit almost outside of history. We know from the study of modern diaspo-
ras that significant changes occur in their composition and identity, not only
from one era to the next but even from one generation to the next. Yet despite
their historical importance as economic, cultural and political intermediaries between
the Chinese and their Asian maritime neighbors, we have little sense of the
development and evolution of the Muslim communities in China, or of their
variable relationship to the Muslim trade diaspora of maritime Asia.
“Trade diaspora” has been defined by André Wink, following Abner Cohen,
as “the interrelated commercial network of ‘a nation of socially interdependent,
but spatially dispersed communities’” which over time remains “an alien ele-
ment in the wider society in which they become settled.”1 This definition
accords well with our knowledge of the medieval Muslim trading world of mar-
itime Asia, though one might question whether it consisted of a single diverse
diaspora, or a number that were overlapping (Arab, South Asian, etc.). In either
case, it is safe to say that the Chinese Muslim communities constituted a part
of the broader diaspora, occupying important nodes in the diasporic network. It
is also important to recognize that diasporas and their communities exist within
history, with varying patterns of sojourning versus settlement and separateness
from the host cultures versus assimilation. But connectedness to the broader
diaspora is what gave the communities their diasporic character, and it is a
character that was maintained by China’s maritime Muslim communities
throughout the long period under consideration.
I have chosen to focus upon the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1279-1368)
periods in this study because that period represented not only a highpoint of
Asian maritime trade, and therefore of interactions between China and the rest
of the maritime world, but also because it is marked by events at its beginning
and end that set it off from the Tang and Ming. At the early end, the rebel
Huang Chao’s sacking of Guangzhou in 879 and his killing of large num-
bers of foreigners there —120,000 Muslims, Jews, Christians and Mazdeans

Wink (1996), 66, Cohen (1971), 266-281. Cohen, especially, raises a host of questions
about the nature of “trading diasporas,” as he calls them—their organization, structures of
authority, forms of communication, etc.—which he interrogates through an investigation of
West African diasporas. However, he also speaks to the antiquity of trading diasporas, men-
tioning medieval Arab and Jewish trading diasporas among them (267).
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according to the Arab historian Ab‚ Zaid of S¬r®f, writing in 9152—caused a

rupture in trade relations between China and its maritime partners, to the benefit
of Southeast Asian ports where much of the business moved, for perhaps as long
as a generation or two.3 And the massacre and trade shift presumably had deleterious
consequences for the Guangzhou Muslims, who had been numerous and pros-
perous, though we have only silence from the sources. Thus the pro-trade poli-
cies of the Southern Tang, Min, and Wuyue during the period of Ten Kingdoms
(or Five Dynasties, 907-960), and especially of the Song in the late tenth cen-
tury, marked a new beginning for the foreign community in Guangzhou. This
was followed in close order by the spread of traders to other southeastern ports,
among them Hangzhou, Mingzhou, and especially Quanzhou.
At the latter end of this era, the transition from the Mongols with their gen-
erally pro-foreign, pro-Muslim policies, to the Ming with its far more restrictive
policies, can be seen to mark the end of an era, especially in Quanzhou, where
the destructive rule of the so-called Persian Garrison for much of the 1360s dam-
aged the commercial underpinnings of that great merchant city and brought its
Muslim population into disrepute. Although the Muslim communities remained
large, and had a resurgence during the Zheng He voyages of the early fifteenth
century, generally their roles and activities during the Ming were much diminished.
For four centuries, however, the Muslims of southeastern China flourished,
and it is on that period that I am focusing, in an attempt to map the contours
of change. Briefly, I propose a tripartite timeframe. In the first, from the Ten
Kingdoms period through at least the 1020s, trade and merchants were concen-
trated in Guangzhou, with frequent tribute missions playing a major role. In the
second, covering the rest of the Song, maritime trade involved multiple ports
and free trade, albeit under the supervision of the maritime trade superinten-
dencies, and the Muslim communities became increasingly integrated into the
society of southeastern China. In the third period, Mongol rule elevated the sta-
tus of the Muslims while the Mongol ecumene made possible a large influx of
Muslims from the Middle East and provided unprecedented mobility for them,
both within China and between China and their home countries, thus
significantly altering the nature of the communities and their diasporic identity.
The Chinese communities with which we are concerned were by no means
unique in the medieval maritime world. During the first millennium and a half

Cited Levy (1961), 109. The number itself cannot be taken literally, but it attests to the
existence of a sizeable community as well as to a massacre of foreigners when Huang Chao
captured Guangzhou.
See Wink, 84, Hourani (1951), 78, and Chaudhuri (1985), 51. One prominent theory is
that most of the China trade moved to Kalah, an island off the west coast of the Malay
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of the common era foreign merchant settlements could be found in Champa,

Annam, Sumatra, Java, Sri Lanka, Malabar, and the Sind, not to mention the
many settlements in southwestern Asia and the Mediterranean. They varied
widely in terms of their size, history, ethnic and religious composition, and rela-
tions with local powers, but their common participation in long distance trade
created far flung networks and, according to K. N. Chaudhuri, a shared com-
mercial culture:
There were certainly well-established conventions in commercial contracts in all the
trading cities of the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. The legal corpus protected
merchants when the contracts were concluded between inter-communal members, and
the reputation of a port of trade turned on the fairness of its legal traditions. (Chaudhuri,
1985: 12)

Nor were the Muslim merchants in Chinese ports alone in their activities.
Hangzhou, Mingzhou, and especially Guangzhou and Quanzhou were host to
multiple diasporic populations, of which those from Annam, Srivijaya, Cola
India, and Korea were noteworthy. But given the preeminent role played by the
largely Arab and Persian Muslims in long-distance trade, and perhaps even in
the regional trade between China and Southeast Asia, they seem to have been
the most prominent of the trade diasporas in China. In Chinese discussions of
“foreign merchants” or “foreign guests” ( fanshang , fanke ), specific
examples most typically involve Arabs (Dashi ) or individuals with Arabic
names. This accords with economic reality, for according to Zhou Qufei
writing in 1178, “As for the wealth and largest quantities of valuable goods,
none can compare with Arabia. Then comes Java, then Srivijaya, and then all
the other countries.”4
Any attempt to trace the evolution of the Muslim communities in China must
begin by considering the macro-historical factors that helped to shape them. In
the Middle East, the increasing importance of the Mediterranean economy and
the emergence of what Janet Abu-Lughod has famously described as a world
system in maritime Asia were arguably factors behind the decline of long-
dominant Baghdad during the late Abbasid and Buyyid, and the corresponding
rise of the Fatimid and then the Mamluk regimes in Cairo. The unprece-
dented economic growth of maritime Asia, driven in large part by the size
and dynamism of the Song economy, created new powers such as the Cola,
Srivijaya, Java and Champa realms, new ports like Calicut, Palembang and
Quanzhou, and new merchant diasporas, among them the Chinese, as Kenneth

Zhou, 3:126. Mention should also be made of the Tamil merchants from Cola India,
whose considerable role in the maritime trade of the 11th-13th centuries made them a visi-
ble presence on Quanzhou and elsewhere. See Guy (2001), 283-309.
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Hall shows in his article in this issue. Where Abbasid-Tang trade had relied
upon dangerous but direct sea voyages from the Persian Gulf to China, in the
eleventh and twelfth centuries a more lucrative and secure system of segmented
trade involved the transshipment of goods in south Indian, and sometimes Southeast
Asian ports. (Chaudhuri, 1985: 39; Sen, 2003: 160-1) Shipping changed as well,
with large Chinese-style seagoing junks with nailed hulls replacing the smaller
Arab and Southeast Asian vessels as the preferred ships for long-distance trade
among merchants of all nationalities. (Sen, 2003:176-7)
For Muslim traders, the expanded trading system meant more business in
more places, albeit with more rivals. The largely dyadic ties between Guangzhou
and the Middle East were replaced by a network of Muslim communities, and
given the spread of Islam into India and even into certain segments of Southeast
Asian society, one could no longer assume that these communities would
consist just of Arabs and Persians, although in China at least the Arabs and
Persians appear to have dominated the Muslim maritime communities in the Song-
Yuan period. At the same time, the fluidity of the Asian maritime world was
such that Arabs were commonly used as tribute envoys to China by South and
Southeast Asian kingdoms, the Cola, Champa, and Srivijaya realms among them.
For example, Pu Jiaxin (probably Abu Kasim) first appears in Chinese
records as a “foreign guest” in 1004, and subsequently as the Muscat envoy at
in 1011, the Cola vice envoy in 1015, and the Arabian vice envoy in 1019.5
Two things served to distinguish the diasporic communities in the ports of
China from those elsewhere in Asia. One was the enormous size and wealth of
the Chinese market. In its heyday, the city of Quanzhou had a population in the
hundreds of thousands, making it the most important port in the world, and while
we have no figures on the size of the foreign communities there, it is resonable
to assume that they were correspondingly large. Second was the role of the Chinese
government, in the form of the tribute system and the maritime trade superin-
tendencies (Shibosi ) that regulated overseas trade in China’s ports, insti-
tutions that did much to shape commerce and the merchant communities from
the tenth through the thirteenth centuries. As we shall see these factors did
much to shape the historical development of the Muslim maritime communities
in China.

Hartwell (1983), 188, 198, 200, 206. See the discussion of this phenomenon in Sen
(2003), 167-8. Hartwell’s privately published work consists of tables by country which col-
late information concerning each of the tribute missions from a variety of Song sources. He
intended it as a supplement to a planned monograph on the tribute mission, international
trade and politics, which unfortunately he never wrote.
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Although most of our evidence for the revival and then burgeoning of mar-
itime trade in the tenth and eleventh centuries comes from the Song, it clearly
had its origins under the southern kingdoms during the Five Dynasties period
(907-960). According to Hugh Clark, Guangzhou in Southern Han (917-971),
Quanzhou in Min (909-945), and Mingzhou in Wuyue (907-988) all flourished
as a result of the trade, and their respective kingdoms all benefited fiscally as
a result. (Clark, n.d.). While we have no direct evidence about the Muslim com-
munities in those cities, they must have been there since in the tenth-century
maritime trade was still the exclusive domain of non-Chinese.
During the early years of the Song, the government was proactive in its
encouragement of maritime trade. The first Song maritime trade superintendency
was opened in Guangzhou in 971, and this was subsequently followed by the
creation of two new superintendencies in Hangzhou and Mingzhou. (Tuo Tuo,
186:4558). During the Yongxi reign period (984-987), eunuch officials
were sent abroad on four missions to invite the trade of merchants from all
foreign countries in the southern seas, with instructions that they were to go
to the maritime trade superintendency in Hangzhou to obtain their licenses.
(Tuo, 186:4559).
While the maritime trade superintendencies were an extremely significant
innovation, during the first half century of the Song tribute missions may well
have been more important for the practice of maritime trade. During the reigns
of the first three emperors (960-1022), the high water period of the Song tribu-
tary system, fifty-six missions came from the kingdoms of the southern seas. Of
these, almost half (twenty-three) were from the Middle East.6 The Song tribu-
tary system was a complex institution that reflected the unique international

The figures have been compiled from Hartwell, Tribute Missions to China. A fuller
breakdown is given below:

Tributary Missions from the Southern Seas in the Northern Song

Maritime South Southwest Totals

Southeast Asia Asia Asia
Taizu 960-75 9 4 4 17
Taizong 976-97 9 2 8 19
Zhenzong 998-1022 3 6 11 20
Renzong 1023-63 1 4 2 7
Yingzong 1064-67 0 0 0 0
Shenzong 1068-85 4 3 7 14
Zhezong 1086-1100 3 1 3 7
Huizong 1101-26 2 0 1 3
Totals 31 20 36 87
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configuration that obtained in East Asia at the end of the first millennium. Song
relations with its continental neighbors to the north—the Liao and Xixia, and
later the Jin—were notable for the pragmatic willingness by the Song emperors
to compromise the hierarchical principles of the tributary system in order to
maintain peace. (Rossabi, 1983; Wang Gungwu, 1983). Along the southern
frontier, more traditional notions of hierarchy and hegemony predominated
in Song relations with Vietnam (Nanyue or Jiaozhi ) and Champa
(Zhancheng ), though they also utilized the “loose rein” ( jimi ) system
of frontier administration begun by the Tang. (Anderson, 2006). In contrast to
both of these tributary relationships, commerce was central in the Song’s tribute
relations with the countries of the southern seas, which were too distant to be
militarily or geographically consequential to the Song. The connection between
trade and tribute went beyond the lavish and mutual gift-giving that character-
ized tribute missions generally. According to one Southern Song source, “This
year (968), the Arab kingdom sent an envoy bearing tribute goods, and from
that tribute mission on, merchant ships have come and gone without ceasing.”7
Part of the connection was physical. The maritime missions all stopped first in
the city of Guangzhou, where they were undoubtedly welcomed by their fellow
countrymen, since they would have been bearing news, letters and goods.
But there is also evidence of a direct connection between tribute and trade.
The Arab envoys, in particular, are frequently identified as “ship owners”
(bozhu ), and in some cases they were actually from the Guangzhou com-
munity. The examples of the Arab merchant Pu Ximi (Abu Hamid?)
and his son Pu Yatuoli (Abu Adil?) are instructive in this regard.
In 976, Pu Ximi was sent by the “Arab King” Kelifu .8 (SS, 3:47).
Seventeen years later, in 993, he was back again, but the stated circumstances
were very different:
Formerly when I was at home, I received a letter from the foreign headman of
Guangzhou urging me to go to the capital and offer tribute. He said much in praise of
the emperor’s virtues, who had commanded a liberal treatment towards the foreigners
to the viceroy of Guangnan, in order to console the foreign traders and make them
import things from distant countries.9

Two years later Pu Yatuoli explained his own mission in a memorial to the throne:
My father Pu Ximi, seeking commercial profits, took ship and came to Guangzhou, and
when five years had passed without his return, my mother sent me this long distance to
see him. Upon my arrival in Guangzhou I saw him. (Tuo Tuo, 490:14119-20;
Kuwabara, 1928: 78).

Shantang kaosuo by Zhang Ruyu , cited in SHY, Fanyi, 7/3a.
According to Hartwell (1983), 195, Al-Muti was Caliph of Baghdad at the time. Perhaps
“ke-li-fu” was a translation of “caliph” rather than his name.
Tuo Tuo, 490:14119, largely following the translation of Jitsuzo Kuwabara (1928), 41.
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The Pu father and son surely represent the Arab trading elite of the late tenth
century. Theirs was a wealthy family with a well-established involvement in
the China trade, but maintaining their primary residence in the west (Ximi’s
wife remained there). Although the missions of 976 and 998 were both “sent”
by the caliph of Baghdad, their own accounts make it clear that they were the
initiators. The role of the headman, moreover, accords with the observation
of Zhu Yu (early 12th c.) that the headman “is specifically responsible
for exhorting the foreign merchants to send tribute.” (Zhu Yu, 1989: 2:27).
I would suggest that the initiative for many—though certainly not all—of the
maritime tribute missions came from the foreign merchant community of
Guangzhou. This is not to say that they were fraudulent, but rather that they
were often proposed by the merchants and undertaken with the support of their
rulers. This helps to explain an apparently anomalous memorial from 1016 by
the Guangzhou prefect, Chen Shiqing , proposing that limits be set on
the size of tribute missions:
The embassies with their envoys, vice-envoys, subordinate officials ( panguan ),
and assisting officials ( fangshouguan ) should be limited to 20 for Arabia
(Dashi), Cola (Zhunianguo ), Srivijaya (Sanfoqi ), and Java (Shepo
),and 10 for Annam (Zhanchen ), Tambralinga (Danliumei ), Borneo
(Boni ), Guluo , and the Philippines (Moyi ), and they should be given
documents for their travel. Guangzhou foreign residents ( fanke ) who falsely
substitute for them should be found guilty. (SHY, Fanyi, 7:20b; Li Tao, 87:1998)

At first glance, the last sentence would appear to deny the participation of the
merchants in Guangzhou. But since we know that merchants in Guangzhou
legitimately participated in tribute missions, the concern here was presumably
about proper credentialing rather than barring the merchants as such. Moreover,
since the Song government had no means of enforcing quotas on the size of
missions at their purported point of departure, this proposal was almost certainly
aimed at the envoys as they assembled their retinue for the trip to the capital.
Given the close connection between trade and tribute missions, it seems
likely that most foreign merchants were sojourners, like Pu Ximi having close
family members in their home countries—or possibly other Asian port cities—
and maintaining a foreign political identity. Su Che (1039-1112) provides a
prime example of just this sort of sojourning merchant. Xinya Tuoluo
was an Arab merchant who served as an envoy for Arabia and Muscat and lived
in Guangzhou for several decades and was reported to have amassed a fortune
of “several hundred wan strings of cash”—that is, several million. After return-
ing to his home country—around 1072—he was executed by his ruler. Xinya’s
case came to Su’s attention because of the question whether Xinya’s adopted
son, a former slave, could inherit his estate (the answer was no), but for us it
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demonstrates how merchant-envoys could play a consequential role in both their

home countries and Guangzhou. (Su, 5:28-9). At the same time, the late
eleventh century date makes him something of an anomaly, since for reasons
that are not entirely clear, the maritime tribute missions virtually ceased after
the 1020s, and although they revived somewhat in the late eleventh century,
they never regained the prominence that they had had for the first sixty years
of the dynasty.10 With the missions curtailed, the maritime trade superintenden-
cies and the legal framework developed by the Chinese for the treatment of for-
eign merchants became the paramount factors shaping the Muslim communities,
no longer just in Guangzhou, but in various port cities along the coast, partic-
ularly Quanzhou.
The maritime trade superintendencies were unique institutions in the medieval
maritime world. In addition to the three established in the early Song at
Guangzhou, Hangzhou and Mingzhou, five others were created, most notably at
Quanzhou in 1087, which quickly assumed the position of the premier port for
overseas commerce.11 The multiple superintendencies provided overseas mer-
chants with a choice of ports at which to do their business, while the superin-
tendencies themselves provided a remarkable attention to a wide range of trade-
related activity. According to Zhu Yu, foreign ships entering Chinese waters
from the south first encountered signal beacons set up every 30 li as lighthouses
and, once spotted by the Song navy, which maintained naval stations along the
coast, they were escorted to Guangzhou or one of the other officially sanctioned
ports. After they had docked, the ships were placed under armed guard until the
superintendency officials had had a chance to inspect and tax their goods
(including the compulsory purchase of certain commodities), after which the
foreign merchants were permitted to market them. (Zhu Yu, 2:25).
Did the superintendencies serve to promote or curtail trade? As Zhu’s account
suggests, many of the maritime trade superintendencies’ functions concerned the
supervision of trade (departing ships were also inspected to guard against the

The major exceptions to this pattern of sharply decreased tribute activity after the 1020s
were the Uighurs, Tibetans, Vietnamese, and Champans, all of them continental neighbors of
the Song. Hartwell, (1983).
As Hugh Clark has shown, Quanzhou’s role as a major port for maritime trade dates
back to the tenth century, and although in theory, ships from overseas either had to stop first
at one of the other superintendencies, or risk being caught for smuggling, officials seem to
have often looked the other way. Clark (1991), 376-81.
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export of copper specie), the collection of tariffs, and compulsory purchases,

and free market advocates could well argue that these inhibited trade. (Ma,
1971: 37-8). However, the superintendencies were also charged with the pro-
motion of trade, and this included providing for the welfare foreign merchants,
or as Zhou Qufei put it, “The superintendency [of maritime trade] taxes
the merchants and protects them.” (Zhou, 3:126). In the Southern Song provi-
sions were made for those in urgent need, such as shipwrecked seamen, who
were given allowances while they awaited repatriation.12 In addition, in the tenth
month of every year, the Quanzhou and Guangzhou maritime trade superinten-
dencies each hosted the foreign merchants to a great feast, at the substantial
cost of 300 strings of cash in each place. (SHY, Zhiguan, 44/24a b; Zhou, 3:126)
Although we lack the economic data to prove or disprove the efficacy of the
superintendencies, my own impression is that their bureaucratic character and
their regulations provided merchants with relatively reliable expectations
of the cost of doing business in China that was beneficial to them in their com-
mercial calculations. These could be upended by official corruption—a problem
that elicited considerable discussion by officials—but the evidence suggests that
the Song regulation of maritime trade was far less corrupt than it had been in
the Tang, when postings to Guangzhou were commonly regarded as an avenue
to instant wealth.13
The Song government viewed the foreign merchant communities as a group
apart, and it was content to let them live separately and govern themselves. Zhu
Yu gives a vivid depiction of the Guangzhou community in the late eleventh
The foreign ward ( fanfang ) is where those from the various countries from across
the ocean congregate and live. There is a foreign headman ( fanzhang ) who admi-
nisters the public affairs of the foreign quarter and is specifically responsible for exhort-
ing the foreign merchants to send in tribute. Foreign officials ( fanguan ) are used
for this, and their hats, robes, shoes and tablets are like those of Chinese (Huaren ).
When foreigners have a crime, they go to Guangzhou for investigation of the particu-
lars ( jush ), then the matter is sent to the foreign quarter to dispose of it. [The
guilty party] is tied up on a wooden ladder, and is beaten with a bamboo cane. . . . In
cases of serious crime (shangzui ) the Guangzhou [government] adjudicates. (Zhu
Yu, 2:27).

Tuo, 491:14137. The citation specifically concerns Japanese sailors, but presumably
sailors from other countries would have been similarly treated.
See Kuwabara (1935), 48-55. Although his many examples of corruption related to mar-
itime trade span the Tang and Song, those relating to the Tang tend to be accounts of the
fabulous wealth garnered by Guangzhou officials, while those in the Song are largely related
to legal cases forbidding or prosecuting corruption.
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The practice of legal extraterritoriality, to which the second half of this des-
cription refers, had its origins in the Tang, if not before,14 and despite some
complaints the Song authorities were quite accommodating in allowing its use,
including some cases involving Chinese and foreigners together.15
Like extraterritoriality, the use of foreign headmen ( fanzhang) had Tang
precedents, as reported in an Arab account:
“The merchant Sulayman reports that at Canton, which is the point for the gathering of
merchants, there is a Muslim man who is invested by the chief of the Chinese with the
power to settle conflicts among Muslims who are in the district [of Canton]. This is
according to the wishes of the Chinese sovereign. At the time of festivals, it is he who
directs the Muslim prayers, makes the “khotba”, and pronounces vows in support of the
legal authority that governs the Muslims. The manner in which he exercises his charge
does not raise up any criticism among the merchants of Iraq (Irak?) when the sentences
conform to justice, according to the stipulations of the Book of God and of Islamic
law.” (Sulayman, 1948: 12)

Song references to foreign headmen are few in number but revealing. We

learn from a 1073 case that the position was not hereditary, for when the Arab
headman in Guangdong, the Maintaining Submission Commandant16
Pu Tuopoli Ci , asked to have his son Mawu (Mahmud)
succeed him, he was turned down, though Ma-wu was given the lesser rank of
commandant (langjiang ). The account then provides this gloss on the head-
man’s jurisdiction:
The countries [with merchants] subordinate [to the headman] were varied in name.
Thus there was Wuxun (Muscat, Oman), Tuopoli [the “tuo” is not right],
Yuluhedi (Al-Katif, a port in Bahrein), Maluoba (Merbat), and oth-
ers, but all are headed by the Arab kingdom. (SS, 490:14121).

Since the Arab headman’s authority was confined to Middle Easterners, there
must have been other headmen for other groups, though apart from a Southern
Song reference to a Champa headman (in Quanzhou), we can only speculate
about how many there were. (SHY, Fanyi 4, 84a).
From 1072, the year before Pu Tuopoli Ci’s request, we have another intriguing
incident. Xinya Tuoluo , the Muscat envoy whose personal fortunes

According to the Tang Code, “As to the Hua-wai-jen living in China, all offences
committed by persons of one nationality shall be tried according to the laws of that nation,
but the offences committed between a person of one nationality and that of another shall be
tried according to the Chinese laws.” Kuwabara (1935), 46, citing Tanglü shuyi, zh. 6.
For example, Kuwabara (1935), 47, quotes Lou Yue’s Gongkui ji, zh. 88: “The foreign
traders live together with the Chinese people, and according to the old custom, when they
quarreled with the local people, unless it be bodily injury, they were tried according to their
own laws.” See Chaffee (2006).
Hucker (1985), 369 (#4496): “Sung laudatory title conferred on friendly alien military chiefs.”
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were discussed above, requested that during the course of his return [to Muscat]
he be given permission to examine the affairs of the headmaster’s office in
Guangzhou ( fanzhangsi ), and he also offered to make a donation for
the restoration of Guangzhou’s city walls. His request was referred to the Guangzhou
authorities for decision, while his offer was declined. (SHY, Fanyi 4, 84a; SS,
490:14121). Most scholars in discussing this passage have focused on the city
wall proposal, but Pu’s request is, if anything, more revealing, both for its ref-
erence to the unsurprising but important fact that the headman had an adminis-
trative apparatus, and also for suggesting an interest by the home government
in the Guangzhou community.17
Thanks, perhaps, to the vividness of Zhu Yu’s earlier quoted description of
Guangzhou’s foreign ward and the similarities between it and the quarters for
foreign merchants found in many other Eurasian ports, which were often legally
designated as such, the idea that foreign merchants in China resided in foreign
quarters has gained wide acceptance among historians.18 In fact, historical
records reveal a rather more complicated picture. Although it seems likely that
localities—or quarters—where countrymen or kinsmen congregated were com-
mon in China as elsewhere, there is little evidence for the existence of foreign
wards. Billy So has argued that there is no evidence for them in Quanzhou. (So,
2000: 54). In one of the few extant references to foreign residents in Quanzhou,
Zhu Mu (d. after 1246), it is true, wrote that: “There are two types of
foreigners. One is white and the other black. All live in Quanzhou. The place
where they are living has been called ‘foreigners’ lane’ ( fanren xiang ).”
(Zhu Mu, 11:5a) Apart from its intriguing division of foreigners along racial lines—
Arabs vs. South and Southeast Asians?—the passage’s use of “lane” suggests a
rather more informal unit than “ward” ( fang), with its connotations of a walled
block. The Northern Song scholar-official Zheng Xie (1044-1119) had this
description of Quanzhou: “Maritime merchants crowd the place. Mixing
together are Chinese and foreigners. Many find rich and powerful neighbors.”
(Zheng, 8:20b). Although he could have been talking only about conditions in
the marketplace, the maritime commercial district, which lay between the city’s
southern wall and the river, was also the location of three of the city’s mosques,
strongly suggesting that the foreigners generally resided in that district. We also

It is of course possible that Pu’s request was personally motivated, but his request was
made in his capacity as envoy and received a positive response from the court.
See, for example, Wheatley (1959), 28-9; Kuwabara (1935), 34; and John Guy (2001),
287. For an excellent consideration of the evidence concerning foreign quarters, see Chen
Dasheng (1991), 173-4.
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have a thirteenth century description of Quanzhou as a place where “foreign

merchants live scattered amidst the people.”19
In contrast to Quanzhou, Guangzhou most definitely had a foreign ward, as
the earlier quotation by Zhu Yu makes clear. But many foreign merchants did
not live in it. An official in 1018 described how ‘In Guangzhou there are many
foreign and Chinese great merchants [whose homes] lack the protection of the
city walls and proposed some military protection for the district.
(Li Tao, 94:2166). It is conceivable that he was in fact referring to the foreign
ward, but Zheng Zai , the former fiscal intendent of Guangdong, clearly
was not, when he wrote in 1036 that: “Every year in Guangzhou there are
many foreign guests ( fanke) who take their wives and sons to reside outside of
Guangzhou. Hereafter we should ban [those in] Guangzhou from selling them
any real estate.” The issue was referred to the Guangzhou prefect and the cur-
rent fiscal intendent for consideration. (SHY, Xingfa, 2:21a). Then there were
those who settled within the city walls. Yue Ke (1183-1240) also recounts
the case of a merchant, a “white foreigner” (baifanren —an Arab?) from
Champa, who had received imperial permission to stay in Guangzhou, where he
ran a lucrative shipping business.
“In the course of time he took a permanent residence inside the city. His house and
rooms were very luxurious even trespassing the laws. But as the inspector of trading
ships’ object was to encourage the coming of foreign traders, thereby to increase the
national revenue, and also as he was not Chinese, the authorities did not make any
investigation of the matter.”20

These quotations suggest that attempts by the government to regulate to limit

the residences of foreigners were commonly ignored in the free and easy com-
mercial atmosphere of Song Guangzhou.
Two other institutions played a crucial cultural role in the lives of China’s
maritime Muslim communities: mosques and cemeteries. Donald Leslie has sug-
gested that the mosques were “built for the needs of the local community rather
than for the glory of Allah or the spreading of the faith,” (Leslie, 1986: 41) and
indeed, I have found no evidence of active proselytizing among the maritime
Muslims. It seems likely that the Guangzhou community had both a mosque and
a cemetery in Tang times, though the evidence is poor. For the Song, however,
we have evidence of two mosques in Guangzhou (the Huaishengsi and
Guangta or Shining Pagoda), two in Quanzhou (the Shengyousi and
Qingzhensi ), and one each in Hangzhou and Chang’an. (Leslie, 1986:

Liu Kezhuang , Houcun xiansheng da quanji , zh. 62, cited
in Chen and Cheng (1992), 153.
Yue Ke, 11:125, following Kuwabara (1928), 44.
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40, 44) Guangzhou and Quanzhou both had Muslim cemeteries as well. The
Song writer Fang Xinru describes a cemetery for several thousand for-
eigners ten li west of Guangzhou in which the deceased were buried with their
heads to the south but facing west.21 For Song Quanzhou, we have this won-
derfully detailed account by Lin Zhiqi (1112-76) of the creation of a
cemetery by a Srivijayan merchant:
There are scores of rich merchants from Srivijaya who are living or were born in
Quanzhou. Among them is a man called Shi Nuowei. Shi is famous for his generosity
among his fellow foreign residents in Quanzhou. The building of a cemetery is but one
of his many generous deeds. This cemetery project was first proposed by another for-
eigner named Pu Xiaxin [who did not see it through]. The idea has been car-
ried out and accomplished by Shi. The location of this cemetery is on the hillside to the
east of the city. After the wild weeds and rubble were cleared, many graves have been
built. The cemetery is covered with a roof, enclosed by a wall, and safely locked. All
foreign merchants who die in Quanzhou are to be buried there. Construction started in
1162 and was finished a year later. Such a benevolent deed releases all foreigners in
this land from worry [concerning their own graves after death] and enables the dead
to be free of regrets. Such kindness will certainly promote overseas trade and encour-
age foreigners to come. It is much appreciated that Shi has carried it out. Therefore, I
write this essay to commemorate the event so that [news of it] will be widely circulated

Many scholars have argued from a slightly later account of this cemetery in
Zhao Rukua’s Zhufan zhi that Shi was an Arab from Siraf. Billy
So has shown conclusively how Lin’s account, with its description of Shi as a
Srivijayan, is the earlier and more reliable. (So, 2000: 54-5). However, I would
suggest that the early role of Pu Xiaxin (Pu being the surname of many Arabs,
probably deriving from Abu) in proposing the cemetery and the reiterated state-
ment that it was for “all foreign merchants” suggests that Shi was a Muslim
and the cemetery intended for the use of the Muslim community, given the pre-
eminent role played by the Muslims among the foreigners in Quanzhou.23 Moreover,
given the common use of Arab merchants by various maritime Asian states to
serve as tribute envoys in the early Song that was mentioned above, it is quite
plausible that a leading Srivijayan merchant would have been Muslim.
With the possible exception of residential patterns, most of the aspects of the
merchant communities that we have discussed thus far served to foster a sense

Fang Xinru , Nanhai bai yong , cited in Leslie (1984), 43.
So (2000), 53-4, from Lin Zhiqi , Zhuozhai wenji (Siku quanshu ed.),
In further support of this argument is the fact that the major Muslim cemetery
in Quanzhou, dating to Song-Yuan times and existing to this day, is found to the east of the city.
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of corporate identity, of otherness from surrounding Chinese society. But there

were other forces at work that fostered their integration, especially over the
course of generations.
First, a number of foreigners, most of them with Arab names, were given
official rank during the course of the Song. Zhu Yu’s description of the Guang-
zhou headman describes him as a “foreign official” with the appurtenances of a
regular official, and in fact we know that some of the headmen, at least, were
granted official rank, as were many of the tribute envoys. In 1136, the cash-
strapped Song court rewarded the Arab merchant Pu Luoxin with the
official title of chengxinlang (Gentleman of Trust—a prestige title for
officials which had the rank of 9B) for importing a cargo of frankincense val-
ued at 300,000 strings.24 Although such honors may well have had the primary
effect of setting such individuals above their fellow merchants, I would suggest
that the sartorial and ritual privileges that accompanied official rank would also
have given them respectability and entrée into local elite society. It is notewor-
thy that in the Southern Song we find cases of foreigners contributing to pub-
lic works, a typically elite activity. Although Xinya Tuoluo’s offer of funds to
rebuild the Guangzhou city walls was turned down in 1072, as noted above, in
1211 the foreign merchant Pulu , was publicly acknowledged for his con-
tributions to the rebuilding of the walls of Quanzhou.25 Foreign merchant con-
tributions also underwrote the coast guard ships in the Quanzhou region in the
late twelfth century.26
During the last years of the Song, the Pu family of Quanzhou achieved a far
more substantial measure of political success. The family had come to China
from Arabia via time in the “south seas”—probably a Southeast Asian kingdom.
Pu Kaizong migrated to Quanzhou, and was able to obtain an official
rank, most likely due to the value of the goods he imported, and established his
family. At least one—possibly two—of his sons served as prefects. The third,
and most famous, was Pu Shougeng (d. 1296), who by the mid-1270s
was serving concurrently as Superintendent of Maritime Trade and zhaofushi
or “master of pacification”, a term used for local military commanders.27

SS, 185:4537-8; SHY, Fanyi, 7:46a. The motivation behind this was clearly to encour-
age the maritime trade so as to raise revenue for the cash-strapped government. In addition
to Pu, a Chinese merchant named Cai Jingfang was similarly rewarded for a cargo worth
980,000 strings. The edict further stated that maritime affairs officials in Guangzhou and
Fujian would be promoted one rank when cargoes of 120,000 ounces of silver.
Kuwabara (1928), 52, citing Quanzhou fuzhi , zh. 4.
Kuwabara (1928), 52. As Tansen Sen notes in his article in this issue, the Southern
Song government relied heavily upon Chinese maritime merchants for the support of the navy.
The literature on Pu Shougeng is large, and complicated, for elements of his biography
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Shougeng’s even more important role in the early Yuan will be treated below.
Here it is enough to note that the success of the Pus reflects the remarkable
acceptance that the Muslim community had gained by the end of the Song.
Official toleration—and even at times, encouragement—of expanding foreign
activities in Song life extended beyond the granting of titles and office to select
individuals. In 1104 permission was given for foreign merchants and “locally-
born foreign guests” to travel to other prefectures and even Kaifeng, so long as
they had first procured a certificate from the superintendent of maritime trade.
This was done at the suggestion of the Guangzhou superintendent, who stated
that foreign guests from Arabia and other countries had recently requested per-
mission to do so.28
Even more striking was the government’s willingness to countenance and, indeed,
encourage foreign boys to study in Chinese schools. The biography of Cheng
Shimeng describes his educational activities while serving as prefect of
Guangzhou during the Xining era (1068-77): “[He performed] a major restora-
tion of the [prefectural] school, and daily led the students in their instruction,
so that those who arrived with their books on their backs came one after the
other. The sons of foreigners all desired admission to the school.” (Gong, 3:55).
Cai Tao (d. after 1147) describes how, during the Daguan (1107-10)
and Zhenghe (1111-17) eras, the prefectures of Guangzhou and Quanzhou
asked to establish foreign schools ( fanxue ).29 The Song huiyao provides
an account of the appointment of a preceptor for the Guangzhou foreign school.
This was done in 1108 at the suggestion of Zeng Tingdan , the former
preceptor of the Jiazhou prefectural school in Guangdong, who received the
appointment. In his memorial Zeng stated:
I have observed that the school for foreigners in Guangzhou has gradually become well
ordered, and I would like to request that the court select someone of talent from the
southern prefectures who would work [on reforming] the local customs, committed to
the task of instruction, and to working for months and even years. I anticipate that
among the sons sent by foreigners [to the school], those who receive the pleasure of
education will have mutual regard [with the educated] of the southern provinces. (SHY,
Chongru, 2:12a).

This document is remarkable both for its confidence in the power of accultura-
tion and for its lack of xenophobia. The merchant community is not viewed as

and genealogy are disputed. My account follows that of Billy So (2000), 107-10, and
Appendix B (301-5).
SHY, Zhiguan, 44/8b-9a; Song huiyao jigao bubian (1988), 642.
Cai Tiao , Tieweishan congtan , zh. 2; cited by Kuwabara (1928), 59.
Cai went on to describe how Huizong personally examined Korean students who had been
studying at the Imperial University.
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a threat, and indeed, Zeng looks to its acceptance by the educated elite of
the region.
I would suggest that one reason for this liberal attitude is that it reflected an
emerging social reality. By the late Northern Song, the maritime communities
had flourished in Guangzhou for close to two hundred years and elsewhere for
several generations.30 Although there must have been a constant coming-and-
going of merchants from abroad, there were core communities which, through
intermarriage, had settled and established families, taking on more and more of
a settler identity. It would be nice to know more about the wives whom the for-
eign merchants married and where they came from, but the records are largely
silent. During the Yuanyou era (1086-93), the court discovered to its alarm
that a man surnamed Liu from the foreign quarter of Guangzhou had mar-
ried an imperial clanswoman, and forbade any repeat.31 In another case, from
1137, a complaint was lodged against a military official for having married his
younger sister to a “great merchant” by the name of Pu Yali (a two-
time envoy from Arabia) “in order to profit from his [Pu’s] wealth.” The emperor’s
response was interesting; he directed the complainant —the Guangzhou prefect —
to “urge” Pu to return to his own country.32
These examples are, of course, exceptional. The most likely source of mar-
riage ties for the foreign community were the families of Chinese maritime mer-
chants. As described by Li Yukun, they were a new and prosperous group dur-
ing the Song, including not only those who dealt in maritime commerce from
the safety of Chinese ports, but who also went abroad in large numbers, mak-
ing their own impact in turn on port cities of South and Southeast Asia. (Li
Yukun, 1995: 45-67). In light of the large overlap in their economic interests
and activities, and most likely of marriage ties, Billy So has argued that the for-
eign and Chinese merchants of Quanzhou collectively constituted a “South
Fukien merchant group”. (So, 2000: 205-10). Although I have some reservations
about such a formulation, given the continuing differences in ethnicity and reli-
gion, the trend during the Song was clearly towards increasing integration
between the foreign and Chinese merchant communities.

According to an edict in SHY, Zhiguan, 44:9b-10a—and also in Song huiyao jigao
bubian (1989), 642—dated 1114, maritime foreigners from the various countries had lived in
China for five generations (wushi ).
Zhu Yu, 2:31-2. See Chaffee (1999), 92-3.
SHY, Zhiguan, 44:20a-b. Pu had been a tribute envoy from Arabia in 1131 and again,
in 1134, when his ship was attacked by pirates off the coast of Champa, losing four men and
his goods and suffering injury. SHY, Fanyi, 4:93-4.
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The southeastern coast of China with its maritime communities was the last
region of the Song to succumb to the Mongol invasions. Indeed, only after the
fall of Hangzhou in 1276 and the flight of the remnants of the Song court down
the coast did the war come to the region. The fall of Quanzhou occurred in
early 1277, due to the secret surrender of Pu Shougeng, about whom we will
have more to say below. In Guangdong, the loyalist forces hung on until 1279,
when the Mongol naval victory at Yaishan extinguished the Song dynasty.
The economic disruptions caused by the Mongol invasion for the southeastern
coast seem to have been minor. There is some evidence that Yuan import taxes
on the maritime trade were higher than they had been during the Song.33
However, geopolitical concerns gave maritime trade routes special importance.
By the late thirteenth century the heyday of secure continental travel had
passed. Fighting among the Chinggisid branches, especially the revolt of
Ögödei’s grandson Qaidu against Qubilai, added to the dangers of that travel.
At the same time, the close alliance between Qubilai and the Il-khans in Persia
made the sea-route between China and the Middle East strategically important
and popular. (Endicott-West, 1989: 147; Allsen, 2001, Ch. 4-5)
Following the Song conquest, the Mongols moved quickly both to encourage
the maritime trade and to bring the Muslim merchants under their control. By
the mid-1280s, Shibosi (Maritime Trade Bureaus) had been established in Quanzhou,
Hangzhou, Qingyuan (Ningbo), Shanghai, and Ganpu to supervise the mar-
itime trade. The Muslim merchants, for their part, were organized into ortoy
(wotuo ), merchant associations—long used in the north—that were super-
vised by the state, but also provided with financing for commercial ventures and
various privileges (for example, the right to bear arms) as well as restrictions
for their members. Most significantly, and most lucratively, the ortoy had a
monopoly on most of the valuable commodities of the maritime trade, from
which private traders were barred.34
Politically as well as economically, the Muslims in China benefited greatly
from the Mongol policy of favoring non-Chinese, following only the Mongols
themselves and ahead of all Chinese, for use in government. The Semuren
(“[people of] varied categories”), as they were known, included large

According to Marco Polo, the Yuan government levied a general import tax of 10%,
but it was 30% on small wares, 44% on pepper, and 40% on lignum aloes, sandalwood, other
drugs and general goods. Polo (1908), 318 (Ch. 77). By comparison, “a 10% per cent charge
imposed on ‘fine’ quality goods (i.e., small bulk and high value goods) and a 15 per cent on
‘coarse’ goods were the norm.” Ma (1971), 37.
Endicott-West (1989), 139. The commodities specifically restricted to the ortoy traders
included “gold, silver, copper, iron, and boys and girls (that is, slaves).” For a treatment of
the role of merchants in the early years of the Mongol empire, see Allsen (1989), 83-126.
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numbers of Uighurs and other central Asians, but also Persians and Arabs. The
most famous Muslim official was undoubtedly the notorious Ahmad, a central
Asian Muslim who directed Yuan fiscal administration from 1262 until his
assassination in 1282, but throughout the empire educated Muslims were in demand.
(Rossabi, 1988: 71, 178-84).
In Quanzhou, Pu Shougeng and his family benefited immediately and greatly
from Mongol policies. He was immediately appointed military commissioner for
Fujian and Guangdong, while continuing on as superintendent for Maritime
Trade, and from then until the end of his life in 1296, he held a succession of
high-level provincial posts in Guangdong, Jiangxi, and especially Fujian. A son
and a grandson both held important provincial positions in Fujian into the
1320s, and his son-in-law, Fo Lian , was a merchant of great wealth from
Bahrain who at the time of his death had a fleet of eighty ocean-going ships.
(So, 2000: 114-6; Li Yukun, 1998: 50-1). As for the rest of the southeast, Morris
Rossabi provides the following description:
Some Muslims in the southeastern provinces attained high office. According to the
gazetteer of Chekiang province, they served as censors, darughachi, and pacification
commissioners. Similarly, in Canton, Foochow, and other coastal cities, the Yuan
appointed Muslims to positions in government, particularly in the financial administra-
tion. Khubilai’s edicts and regulations were often translated into Persian and Arabic,
implying that Muslims played an influential role in government.35 (Rossabi, 1981: 276)

Despite the advantages provided by the ortoy and Mongol recruitment poli-
cies, there remains a question as to how much these benefited the Muslim mer-
chant elite of coastal China beyond the Pu family. In his studies of political the
politics of the late thirteenth century, Yokkaichi Yasuhiro has identified three
patronage networks that contested political and commercial domination of
Fujian. At their upper end, these involved close ties between Mongol princes,
empresses and generals at the court and powerful Muslim merchant-officials.
(Yokkaichi, 2000). Those merchant-officials in turn served as patrons of Chinese
merchant families that actually undertook the maritime trade. One of these net-
works involved Pu Shougeng and his family, but in the other two cases Chinese
merchant families of diverse backgrounds answered to central Asian Muslim
officials. These officials, moreover, were central Asian Muslims with no prior
history of involvement in the maritime trade, though their families soon became
major participants in it. (Yokkaichi, 2006). Much work still needs to be done
to integrate Yokkaichi’s findings into our history of the maritime communities,
but it seems likely that, with the exception of the Pu family, the Song Muslim
merchant elite was subordinated in the new political order.

Rossabi, (1981), 276. Rossabi also notes that Muslims accounted for thirty percent of
the superintendents of maritime trade in the Yuan. (275)
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There was a key difference between the remarkable record of office-holding

by Muslims under the Yuan and their much more modest accomplishments in
the Song: whereas in the Song office-holding worked to integrate leading
Muslims into the Chinese elite, in the Yuan it served to accentuate Muslim-
Chinese differences. I would suggest, further, that this contrast reflects a broader
change in the character of the maritime Muslim communities.
Numerically, the Muslim communities in Quanzhou and other southeastern
ports flourished as never before under the Mongols. According to a Chinese
source from the late Yuan, Quanzhou at that time had six or seven mosques.36
Writing in the 1350s, the Arab traveler Ibn Battuta describes large and vibrant
communities in Guangzhou, Quanzhou and Hangzhou, among other places.
(Battuta, 1929: Ch. 9). He is also quite clear in describing the Muslims as resid-
ing in discrete quarters in Zaytun (thought by most to be Quanzhou), Sin-ul-
Sin (Guangzhou?), and Khansa (Lin’an). (Battuta, 1929: 288, 290, 293-4). Although
there are questions about whether he actually visited China, if he didn’t he
clearly drew upon the writings of those who had. For example, in his discus-
sion of Zaytun (Quanzhou), Ibn Battuta speaks of one Burhan al-Din of
Kazerun (in Persia), who maintained a hermitage outside the city and had fre-
quent visits from Arab merchants, since it was to him that they paid sums that
they owed to Shaykh Abu Ishaq in Kazerun. (Battuta, 1929: 288). This same
Burhan al-Din is reported in Chinese records (including a Ming stele) to have
served as the Imam of the Qingjing Mosque ca. 1350, right when Ibn Battuta
was supposed to have been in China. (Chen Dasheng, 1984: 15-8).
The disparity between Ibn Battuta’s descriptions of foreign quarters and our
earlier conclusion that foreign quarters were often ignored when they did exist
is striking. One might argue that Battuta, long familiar with Muslim quarters in
other parts of the Eurasian world, shaped his account to his expectation that this
was how Muslim traders lived in non-Muslim societies. However, I think it
more likely that he was reflecting a real change, that in the Yuan the Muslim
residential centers had formalized into quarters. This accords with Morris
Rossabi’s description of the Yuan Muslim communities:
A branch office of the Wo-t’o tsung kuan-fu or Central Bureau supervi-
sing the Ortagh (which was later to be known as the Ch’üan-fu-ssu or “super-
vising Money Bureau”) was established in the city both in order to regulate the ortagh
or Muslim merchant associations and to provide loans and encourage them. The Arabs
and Persians who resided in Ch’üan-chou formed virtually self-governing communities.
(Rossabi, 1981: 275)

Chen Dasheng (1984), 1, citing A Record of the Qingjingsi Mosque, written by Wu Jian
in 1350.
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Chen Dasheng’s collection of stone stelae and inscriptions from

Quanzhou provides another perspective on the Yuan Muslim community of that
city. Chen provides forty-two gravestone inscriptions in Arabic or Arabic and
Persian (three contain Chinese as well) and all but three of Yuan origin (the
three being Southern Song). Of these, seven were for women and three are
recorded as having performed the Haj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. Twenty-five of
the entries provide nisbâs (surnames indicating their place of origin), and the
distribution is striking. Three were from Arabic locales (two from Siraf and one
from Yemen), two from central Asia (Bukhara, Armenia, and Turkestan), and
the remaining nineteen from Persia or cities in Persia. Of the three inscriptions
that use Chinese, two provide no place of origin, while the third, for a Persian,
suggests that his mother or wife was Chinese.37
These inscriptions are remarkable for apparently reflecting a community of
new immigrants in constant contact with the Muslim world of the Middle East,
with uncertain ties to the pre-Mongol Muslim diaspora which had been charac-
teristic of the Quanzhou Muslims. There is little evidence of Sinicization, and
much to suggest that the deceased were recent arrivals, for example, the seven
inscriptions for women; there is virtually no evidence of foreign Muslim women
in the port cities before the Yuan. It has also been argued that Quanzhou’s
Ashab Mosque—the walls and entrance of which are still standing—is strikingly
similar to two famous fourteenth century mosques in Cairo, which would sug-
gest the rapid transfer of architectural knowledge.38 The preponderance of
Persians among the deceased is also striking, and surprising, for the Arab ports
most commonly associated with the maritime trade are almost unrepresented.
These findings for Quanzhou are echoed in other localities as well. In an arti-
cle surveying Muslim stone inscriptions from the entire southeast, Chen
Dasheng found that, with the intriguing exception of Hainan Island, which has
Song and possibly even late Tang inscriptions, the dated inscriptions were over-
whelmingly from the Yuan and the nisbâs indicated primarily Persian origins.39
Taken together, the evidence points to an influx of Middle Eastern Muslims
into southeastern China during the Yuan with dramatic consequences for the

Chen Dasheng (1984). The last-mentioned inscription is No. 46, for one Ahmad bin Khawaja
Kakyin Alad, and the Arabic/Persian part of the inscription states that “he died in Zaytun,
the town where the mother of the Ahmad family lives.” (38-9)
Chen Dasheng, Quanzhou Yisilan jiao shike, p. 10, citing the observations of the Dutch
scholar Max van Berchem. The Egyptian mosques cited are the Mosque-madrasah of Sultan
Hasan and the Sultan Faradj’s Khankah of Sultan Barkuk’s Mausoleum.
Chen Dasheng (1991), 165-7. The datable inscriptions came from Guangzhou,
Quanzhou, Fuzhou, Hangzhou and Yangzhou, as well as Hainan. Concerning Hainan, Chen
cites Tang reports that local magnates or chiefs there preyed upon Arab merchant ships, plun-
dering cargoes and keeping the crews as servants. (168)
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local communities. The opportunities for Muslim employment in the Mongol empire
together with the unparalleled ease of communication within Eurasia elicited
both an influx of Middle Eastern Muslims into China and their movement
between cities in China. The many Persians represented may indicate that even
in Quanzhou many had come via the overland route, though another possibility
is that Muslims from the Ilkhanate, centered as it was in Persia and northern
Iraq, were specially favored and so especially numerous. Whatever the expla-
nation, the result of the influx on the southeastern Muslim communities was to
make them more insular, more foreign, and probably more orthodox religiously.
The closing years of the Yuan along with the early Ming mark a further
change for the maritime Muslim communities. Beginning in 1311, the secular
powers of the Muslim headmen (qadi) were circumscribed and in 1328 the qadi
were ordered abolished entirely, though how effective that was is questionable
since Ibn Batuta speaks of them. In addition, around 1340 laws were enacted
circumscribing certain marriage practices of Jews and Muslims. According to
Donald Leslie, by the 1350s dissatisfaction with the Mongols was such that the
Muslims gave support to Zhu Yuanzhang, the Ming founder. (Leslie, 1986: 88-
91). Then in the late 1350s, even as the dynasty was unraveling, a local army in
Quanzhou known as the Persian Garrison (Yisibaxi ) under the lead-
ership of Ya-wu-na , another Pu in-law, rebelled and held sway over
southern Fujian for a period of almost ten years. Their regime was marked by
its destructiveness and damaged both the local Muslim community and
Quanzhou’s maritime trade. (So, 2000: 122-5; Maejima, 1974)
I have tried in this study to sketch out the evolution of the maritime Muslim
communities of southeastern China from the tenth to fourteenth centuries.
Although the resulting picture is far from complete, I believe that we can dis-
cern some clear contours of the significant changes that occurred during that
four-century period. In this conclusion I would like to recapitulate my argument
by, first, contrasting the early Song and Yuan, and then by considering the
emergence of a Sino-Muslim elite during the Song, and its fate under the
The Muslim communities of the tenth and fourteenth centuries offer striking
contrasts. The former was small and confined largely to Guangzhou, and the
merchants who comprised it were facing a new commercial reality, namely the
shift to a segmented trading system, in which goods moving between the Middle
East and China were typically transshipped in southern India and/or South-
east Asia, rather than going directly. They were also operating under a Chinese
JESHO 49,4_f4_395-420III 11/8/06 7:48 PM Page 417


government that promoted maritime commerce and was accommodating to

merchant settlement. The prominent role played by the tribute system during
this period reflects the small size of trade, at least relative to what was to fol-
low. The tribute records, moreover, indicate that the Middle Eastern envoys did
not always come from their home countries but at times came from the
Guangzhou community, and that Arabs (or Persians) also served as envoys from
South and Southeast Asia. It would thus appear that the Muslim trade diaspora
had come to play a significant role in inter-state relations as well as commerce
in eastern Asia.
At the later end of our timeframe, the southeastern Muslim communities of
Yuan China were far larger in size and more dispersed, with significant con-
centrations in Hangzhou, Yangzhou, Mingzhou and Fuzhou in addition to
Guangzhou and Quanzhou, a reflection at least in part of flourishing trade.
They, too, benefited from a supportive government, but in a very different way,
since they were preferentially employed by the Mongols and so attained a level
of political power that would have been unthinkable prior to the Yuan. From
the evidence of both tomb inscriptions and Ibn Battuta’s travel account, they
appear to have been far more directly connected to their homelands (especially
Persia) than had previously been the case, a fact that would have accentuated
their foreignness in the Chinese social and cultural landscape.
As for our middle period, three of the major changes from the early Song
were the expansion of maritime trade, especially during the eleventh and twelfth
centuries, the increase in the number of ports officially involved in that trade,
and the decreased visibility of tribute missions, with government support com-
ing primarily from the superintendencies. But most notably, we can see clear
signs of assimilation. Although the evidence remains fragmentary, the signs of
dispersed residence, of interest in Chinese education, of intermarriage, and of
access to minor office for some leaders together suggest a process of social inte-
gration, albeit one that was qualified by adherence to Islam and continual inter-
actions with the broader Muslim diaspora of maritime Asia. Billy So’s earlier-
mentioned suggestion that the Quanzhou Muslims be considered part of a
“South Fukien merchant group” is useful for highlighting the close connection
between the Muslim community and the non-Muslim Chinese maritime mer-
chants. But I would prefer to view the process of assimilation as producing a
Sino-Muslim elite consisting of wealthy and long-resident Muslim families in
Southern Song Quanzhou (and probably elsewhere), who at the same time remained
connected to the broader Muslim trade diaspora.
This formulation, if accepted, raises further questions. Many relate to the
evolution of the Muslim trade diaspora—the relative roles of Chinese and other
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Asian communities in it, the role played by political changes in the Middle
East, and the impact of the Mongol imperium on it—on which I hope the
accompanying studies will shed light.
More specifically, what happened to the Sino-Muslim elite during the Yuan?
The preeminent example of that elite is, of course, the family of Pu Shougeng,
which established itself under the Song but had its greatest power and glory
during the Yuan. In Quanzhou, at least, they played a critical transitional role,
not only in Pu Shougeng’s orchestrating the surrender of Quanzhou to the
Mongols, but also in providing local, albeit Muslim, leadership in Quanzhou
and Fujian during the early Yuan. When we move beyond the Pus, however,
the situation becomes murky, for Yokkaichi’s research suggests that the Sino-
Muslim elite was not an important source for Muslim officials. At the least, we
can note that both the path to success and the political hierarchy had changed
drastically, transforming families like the Pus from at least semi-assimilated
members of elite society to representatives of the foreign overlords. Although
assimilation and intermarriage undoubtedly continued through the Yuan, the
context was very different. For example, Su Tangshe , a descendent of
the Northern Song official and writer Su Song (1020-1101), not only mar-
ried a woman from Pu Shougeng’s family but also took the Arabic name of
Ahmed when he settled in Quanzhou.40 While such an inversion of the
social hierarchy must have benefited the Muslims in the short-run, it proved to
be a long-term liability.
Let me end with a word about the Ming. Although it is beyond the purview
of this paper, I would suggest that the cessation in the widespread movement
of people across Eurasia which followed the fall of the Mongol empire together
with the decline in maritime trade during the early Ming caused a further, great
change for the Muslim communities of the southeast. Although it may have
been delayed by the Zheng He voyages under the Yongle Emperor, the ensuing
isolation from both the Middle East and the rest of maritime Asia marked the
end of their diasporic identity. The communities continued and at times even
thrived, but as an ethnic minority, not a trade diaspora.

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